How Do You Define Good Art?

Coming home from the theatre after many shows, my husband and I spend the entire time discussing what we just saw. After we’ve done a bit of deconstruction the discussion will turn to what we thought about various parts, what emotions arose as a result of the play, how did we feel when we left? For us, that is the measure of good art, it compels you to think, to talk about it, to share the emotions and ideas that it elicited.

That same definition of good art can be applied to paintings, photography, sculpture, any number of art forms. I recently had the opportunity to read a book that would fall in that category. The book is I Wish by Toon Tellegan. It is a selection of short works of prose and poetry written to accompany some portraits by Ingrid Cohon that were inspired by vintage photographs. The words were translated into English by David Colmer. This collaborative effort has created a book I would definitely put in the category of good art.

When I opened the book I was first drawn to the portraits, which were both simple and compelling. As I looked at them, I found myself wondering what those children were thinking. That’s where the prose/poems came into play. They put words and thoughts into the mix to create a more complete picture of the the child in the picture. Curious? Here’s my review.


A great coffee table book, or perhaps a book to give to your favorite pediatrician to have in their office. There are wonderful old-fashioned portraits of Dutch children, reminiscent of Vermeer’s paintings from the Baroque period. The portraits created by Ingrid Godon and based on old-fashioned portraits, all have a measure of inscrutability that accompanies beautifully the prose/poems written by Toon Tellegan and translated by David Colmer. Just looking at the portraits can be mesmerizing. The longer you look, the more you wonder what is happening behind those eyes.

That’s where the prose/poems come into play. As you read, you can hear the child’s voice, sometimes using very adult words and voicing very adult thoughts. Those thoughts range from a desire to go back, all the way back in time, sometimes to take a different path, sometimes just to  be the only one who has been forward and then back to a more child-like thought of having a rhinoceros for a pet. 

Throughout reading the short pieces that accompanied the portraits, I was struck by the honesty that you would expect from the mind of a child, often with a child’s egocentricity. What was unusual, and yet no less believable were the adult themes such as death and dying, belonging, being a part of something, or wishing to disappear. The thoughts, accompanied by the drawings made you want to stop and think, feel the emotions that were being expressed before moving on to the next one.

It was easy to forget the words had been written by an adult as you read and delved into the portraits and rather believe they had been written, or at least thought of, by a child. There were segments that made you smile, some that made you think, and others that were simply echoes of thoughts you have had, perhaps when you were a child. Most of them are thoughts you know will always remain inside for fear of being ridiculed or simply because the thinker wanted something that was just their own.

It’s the kind of book you might pick up at moments of introspection or simply quiet times to help foster thoughts of your own. It’s not designed to be read from beginning to end, non stop, but to return to again and again, when the mood strikes and you are looking for something just a bit different. My thanks to Elsewhere Editions of Archipelago Books and NetGalley for providing me with an Advanced Digital Reader copy in exchange for an unbiased review.


If you re looking for a gift, this might be one you want to consider; or you may just want to treat yourself. It doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy a little time every day with a good book. Happy Reading.